Positive Psychology Elements on Facebook-themed graphic designed by Mayra Ruiz-McPherson

5 Positive Psychology Elements of Facebook’s Interfaces and Platform Infrastructures You Probably Experience Almost Every Single Day

Worldwide social media usage statistic numbers grow exponentially year to year, and such has been the upward trend now for more than a decade.

Explosive social media usage growth means that billions of people throughout the globe regularly frequent social media sites to connect with friends, peers, and family many times over throughout the course of a given day.

As social media users log in and out of their social apps and sites, they are generally oblivious to the positive psychology-influenced elements purposefully weaved into the interface designs of their profiles, dashboards, and always-updating news feeds.

To demonstrate this premise more clearly, this writing briefly highlights five relevant examples where positive psychology has been strategically incorporated into the News Feed interface design of the world’s most frequented social network: Facebook.

At the time of this writing, Facebook reports 2.50 billion monthly active users (Facebook, 2020). Like most social networks, Facebook strongly depends on advertising revenue as its primary business model (McFarlane, 2014). As such, the social media platform strives to provide its users with an entertaining and enjoyable media experience in hopes of extending a user’s platform visit session. Lengthier user visits, in turn, result in increased exposures to and engagement with online ads.

This writing lifts excerpts from one of my recent (media psychology and positive psychology) doctoral papers, which explores how combinations of designed experiences, coupled with elements of positive psychology, can help keep social media users engaged and ingrained within Facebook’s frameworks.

According to Internet and telecom research provider, BroadbandSearch.net (2020), 3.8 billion people (more than half the world’s population) use social media. On average, those 3.8 billion global social media users spend an average of 144 minutes (or two hours and twenty-four minutes) on social networks (BroadbandSearch.net, 2020).

The 2020 social media usage numbers of 144 minutes per day metric reflect a significant jump when compared to 2012’s social media usage numbers, which average to an hour and thirty minutes (or 90 minutes) for social media usage worldwide (Young, 2017). This jump, as Figure A (below) depicts, constitutes a clear 60% increase — resulting in an additional 54 minutes — of social media usage worldwide over the past seven years (BroadbandSearch.net, 2020).

Figure A. Time Spent on Social Media: Daily Average (Hours, Minutes) from 2012–2017. Reprinted from GlobalWebIndex by D. Slack, 2017, Retrieved from https://blog.globalwebindex.com/chart-of-the-day/social-media-captures-30-of-online-time.

When these social media usage numbers are broken down both by social network and per day, BroadbandSearch.net (2020) reports that the average social media user spends at least 58 minutes per day on Facebook.

Although average internet speeds have dramatically improved since 2007 (“Average internet connection speed in the U.S. 2007–2017,” n.d.), and the number of smartphone users today surpasses three billion (“Smartphone users worldwide 2020,” n.d.), this author posits that technological and connectivity advances alone are not the only reasons propelling social media usage. More specifically, this author contends that elements of positive psychology, which have been systematically built into Facebook’s user experiences, also contribute to this platform’s growing social media usage numbers worldwide.

While the impact of new technologies and media on well-being and positive functioning is still somewhat controversial (Riva et. al., 2012), this author’s exploration into this subject, and as it pertains to Facebook, in particular, shed light on noteworthy possibilities worth further consideration.

The rich field of psychology has its many subfields, and one such subfield — documented as having entered the intricate psychology landscape in 1954 — is that of positive psychology (Snyder & Lopez, 2009). Positive psychology flips the traditional psychological script; one that historically addresses psychological challenges from a medically-inclined, ailment-centric point of view, and instead addresses psychological challenges from the positive rather than the negative. Human potential expert, Shawn Achor, offers the following explanation, “You can eliminate depression without making someone happy. You can cure anxiety without teaching someone optimism. You can return someone to work without improving their job performance. If all you strive for is diminishing the bad, you’ll only attain the average and you’ll miss out entirely on the opportunity to exceed the average (Achor, 2011, p. 11).” Such premises, implications, and contexts — where “more attention is paid to the good in people” (Snyder & Lopez, 2009, p. 3), where “people can be helped to reach their potential (p. 4),” and where it’s “possible to improve individual levels of well-being (p. 5)” — lends itself to the technological arena, inspiring the additional psychological subset fields of positive technology and positive media psychology.

Because technology is generally believed to improve the quality of people’s lives (Riva et. al., 2012), it has a direct correlation to the tenets of positive psychology, which also strive to improve the quality of an individual’s life and well-being. Riva et. al. (2012) argue it is this very “quality of experience” overlap that should become a guiding principle in technology design and development as well as “a primary metric for the evaluation of their applications (p. 1).” The authors (Riva et. al., 2012) also contend a positive technology framework should integrate enhancements of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) with positive psychology’s goals of “increasing wellness, strength, and resilience in individuals, organizations, and society (p. 2).”

American psychologist Dr. Martin E.P. Seligman, also Director of the Penn Positive Psychology Center and Zellerbach Family Professor of Psychology in the Penn Department of Psychology (“Martin E.P. Seligman,” n.d.), introduced three fundamental principles or pillars for “the good life” (Riva et. al., 2012) and these include:

· The pleasant life: achieved through the presence of positive emotions;

· The engaged life: achieved through engagement in satisfying activities and utilization of one’s strengths and talents;

· The meaningful life: achieved through serving a purpose larger than oneself.

In subsequent writings, Seligman introduced his five-core elements of well-being and human happiness — a construct he named “the PERMA model (Seligman, 2011).” The letters in this acronym represent the following elements:

1. Positive emotion: this includes not just happiness but the ability to be optimistic and view the entirety one’s life constructively

2. Engagement: activity engagement helps “flood the body with positive neurotransmitters and hormones that elevate one’s sense of well-being (Pascha, 2020).”

3. Relationships: human beings flourish best when they are socially connected

4. Meaning: finding or creating fulfillment with causes greater than oneself

5. Accomplishment: achievement inspire feelings of pride and satisfaction

Seligman’s three pillars of “the good life” and his PERMA model are, according to Riva et. al. (2012), theories that can be reapplied toward ICT infrastructures and environments to achieve a positive technology framework focused on creating and supporting the following personal experiences (p. 3):

· Hedonic: technologies that induce pleasurable moments and joyful experiences;

· Eudaimonic: technologies that encourage and support engagement activities and self-actualizing experiences;

· Social/Interpersonal: technologies that foster social connections and community ties.

Collectively, this trio of positivity-influenced ICTs are highly relevant, positive technology approaches that this writing will demonstrate specific examples of as they apply to Facebook and Instagram interface designs.

Much like positive technology aims to enhance a user’s overall experience with ICTs, positive media psychology, which also draws from positive psychology theories and learnings, aspires to improve an individuals’ mediated technology experiences. The operative phrase in the latter sentence is “mediated technology;” these technologies include interpersonal communications where technology plays a conduit role between individuals, such as email, text messaging, and social media (Ruiz-McPherson, 2019). Therefore, a positive media psychology paradigm, when applied to a mediated technology experience, seeks to answer questions such as “What’s right?” “How do people benefit?” “How can we make it better? (Rutledge, 2020)” to uncover opportunities that “impact lives and society for the better (p. 1).”

As this writing previously established, approximately half of the world’s population is spending 144 minutes each day, on average, engaged with social media (BroadbandSearch.net, 2020).

Figure A (Slack, 2017) (above) from GlobalWebIndex shows a 60% (and 54-minute) increase of time spent on social media from 2012 (1:30 hours or 90 minutes) to 2017 (2:15 hours or 135 minutes). As a hypothetical exercise, applying another 60% (and 54-minute) increase to Figure A’s 2017’s “Time Spent on Social Media” numbers in five years would average to 3:15 hours (or 189 minutes) on social media per day in 2022 (see Table 1).

Table 1

While Table 1 represents a possible, all-things-being-equal outcome in terms of time on social media numbers by 2022 (a mere two years away from the time of this writing), the point is that it’s likely to expect continued increases in social usage per day trends throughout the globe.

Social media, as also established earlier, is a form of mediated technology conducive to interpersonal, human-to-human communications. As such, and in correlation to Table 1 outcomes for 2022 in mind, it’s prudent to conclude that human-to-human communications will continue to skyrocket on one (if not “the”) of the world’s most robust and expansive social networks: Facebook.

It would behoove positive psychology advocates to explore how Facebook, and its corresponding social app Instagram, leverage the combined constructs of positive technology and positive media psychology throughout their designs and technical infrastructures to successfully keep users entrenched for longer periods of time day after day, and year after year.

Positive Psychology Elements: Facebook

The average user spends 58 minutes per day on Facebook (BroadbandSearch.net, 2020), a social network reporting nearly 2.5 million monthly active users as of Q4 2019 (Facebook, 2020).

Achieving this gargantuan level of consistently-engaged-every-month growth is no easy feat, especially with so many social media networking options just a mere click away that are equally vying for users’ hyper-fragmented attention spans.

To help achieve its astronomical levels of repeat users, Facebook infuses user experiences — from logging in, updating one’s newsfeed, and more — with multiple positive technology elements intended to induce a sense of pleasurable connectivity and ongoing engagement on its platform.

Shared below are five brief yet specific, supporting examples.

First-time users, for example, are presented with the following login screen (Figure B):

Figure B. Facebook’s login screen. Reprinted from Facebook, March 25, 2020, Retrieved from https://facebook.com.

Even before a user’s low-barrier-to-entry sign up (“It’s quick and easy.”), he or she is welcomed with a prominent, interpersonal communication, call-to-action, and ease-of-global-community reach:

“Connect with friends and the world around you on Facebook (see Figure B).”

Next, the user is enticed with promises of entertaining (“See photos and updates”) and joyful social connections (“from friends”) right from their News Feed.

The user is also encouraged to meaningfully engage with the platform (“Share what’s new in your life”) in such a way that can be visibly shared with his or her network of social connections (“on your Timeline”).

Additional promises of discovery and exploration await as the user is lured to “Find more” of what they’re looking for using Facebook search.

Once logged in, the user’s descent into Facebook’s positive technology and positive media psychology-infused environment continues, as shown in Figure C (below).

Figure C. Facebook’s Home screen, seen after logging in. Reprinted from Facebook, March 25, 2020, Retrieved from the author’s own logged in “Home” screen.

As Figure C (above) demonstrates, saliently placed at the very top of the News Feed is what Gielan (2016) defines as a power lead and purposefully-optimistic, positive psychology primer; one intended to “inspire (the) beginning to a conversation or other communication that sets the tone for the ensuing social script (p. 33).”

Facebook’s prominent and personalized power lead asks the users, “What’s on your mind, (first name of user displayed here)?” and motivates a positive-natured response (Figure D, below).

Figure D. Facebook’s News Feed power lead. Reprinted from Facebook, March 25, 2020, Retrieved from the author’s own News Feed.

Evidence of this motivation can be seen in the supporting interface design elements surrounding the primary power lead, which include:

1. Photos/Videos: This ability not only allows the user to upload photos or videos into his or her News Feed, but it also inspires opportunities for the user to share prosocial imagery in a variety of contexts, including social environments, family settings, supporting causes, posing solo, posting selfies, playing sports, and other positively-themed occasions (Nosko et al., 2010, Strano, 2008).

2. Tag Friends: When users tag friends, they invite discussions, spark conversations, and drive network feedback from social connections. Posting or sharing content also allows users to experience a sense of agency by feeling that they have some control over information on the site (Oeldorf-Hirsch & Sundar, 2015, Sundar, 2008).

3. Feeling/Activity: Notably, the ability to express a feeling or describe an activity is depicted with an emoji face smiling ear to ear, underscoring the primary sentiment being showcased is joyful and happy. Facebook’s incorporation of emojis is no accident; emojis are used just for fun and also for embellishment (Hougaard & Rathje, 2018).

While this trio of interface design elements is not the only posting and sharing capabilities available to Facebook users, the fact they are the most salient three speaks to Facebook’s prioritizing the positive psychology infrastructures of their platform.

Another interface design element Facebook is widely renowned for is its “Like” button feature (Figure E, below).

Figure E. Facebook’s Like button and other post feedback features. Reprinted from Facebook, March 25, 2020, Retrieved from the author’s own News Feed.

The “Like” sentiment, with it’s accompanying thumbs up icon, is a universally understood positive emotion often used by users to show support, appreciation, or indicate they’ve “enjoyed reading a friend’s status update (Egebark & Ekström, 2011).”

Figure E (above) speaks to the prominence of the “Like” feature; it’s been strategically designed as a front-and-center feature saliently placed before the ability to “Comment;” its size and prominence is also larger than Facebook’s emoji-inspired “Reactions” (upper left) as well as the number of comments (upper right), which is displayed in text-only format (to indicate the number of comments not as important).

Additionally, Figure E (above) spotlights Facebook’s “Reactions” feature — introduced in February 2016 — extends the “Like” button’s capabilities with sentiment-inspired, emoji-esque icons that expand a user’s emotional palette.

As seen from Figure F (below), when a user clicks and holds the “Like” button, they see five specific (and animated) human emotions (including “love,” “haha,” “wow,” “sad,” and “angry”) visually displayed.

Figure F. Facebook’s “Reactions.” Reprinted from Facebook, March 25, 2020, Retrieved from the author’s own News Feed.

“Like,” as established earlier, symbolizes a widely recognized positive emotion or positive context. “Reactions,” however, emphasize positive emotion even further by allowing users to express themselves with the additional positive emotion options of love, laughter, and surprise. With “Reactions” deployed, users have access to four (rather than just one) positive emotions to choose from. Thus, Facebook’s “Reactions” feature serves as a hedonically-designed element within its interface making that increases emotive expression and helps create pleasurable moments and joyful experiences.

Circling back to Figure C (above), in the upper right header area of the Facebook “Home” News Feed, a birthday announcement area can be prominently seen situated just below the notifications icons (on the blue primary bar) as well as the first content emphasis area on the interface’s right column. Figure G (below) offers a zoomed-in close up of this birthday announcement area.

Figure G. Birthday notifications as part of Facebook’s interface. Reprinted from Facebook, March 25, 2020, Retrieved from the author’s own News Feed.

Birthday notifications remind users to wish members of their social network well wishes, thereby strengthening social bonds. Additionally, birthday reminders are often viewed as joyful occasions and pleasurable moments, thereby underscoring yet another hedonically-salient element of Facebook’s interface design. And because Facebook strives to create a positively-inclined environment that motivates users to contribute and engage with positive content (for the purpose of keeping users on the site for longer periods of time), users would never expect to see, as an example, a dedicated area of their News Feeds spotlighting funerals. Nor would they ever get notifications of when friends unfriend or unfollow them. The fact that Facebook actively chooses to emphasize happy moments, like birthdays (and not funerals) and new friend connections (and not friend unfollows), again underscores the platform’s positive technology approach towards its designed interfaces and platform frameworks.

Closing

As a social media company receiving at least 90% of its revenue coming from ad sales (Facebook, 2020), Facebook (like its counterparts, including Snapchat, YouTube, Twitter, and others) needs two things: a continuous stream of advertising dollars to survive, and an endless bounty of users who’ll continuously linger on its platform, daily. The latter is mission-critical because if a media property can’t command a large enough audience, it can’t provide a substantial source of revenue. The website ReasonStreet.com explains this dynamic quite simply: “the bigger you get, the more market share you command (“Business model: advertising-supported,” n.d.).”

As such, Facebook it’s almost forced by default to incorporate aspects of positive psychology into its platform infrastructures and interface designs. Doing so helps attract new users lured by Facebook’s ability to support social connectivity en masse (and for free) in a positive technology structured environment. In parallel, Facebook offers existing users many opportunities to strengthen social bonds and self-actualization experiences in happiness-first infused ways.

In either case, Facebook wins: new users flock to the site year after year and existing users become loyal “repeat customers” engaging with the platform for at least an hour every single day.

Therefore, deploying strategically hedonic elements (such as Facebook’s “Like” button and its emoji-inspired “Reactions”) fostering moments of positive emotions, eudaimonic features (like friend suggestions/invitations as well as commenting, sharing, and chatting capabilities) to encourage interpersonal communications and network feedback, and PERMA-inspired details like birthday announcements, notifications, event invites, and more, allows Facebook to successfully keep most users deeply engaged for extended periods of time.

Unfortunately, the limited scope of this writing did not allow for additional exploration into not just the Facebook elements already shared but also other key features, notably Facebook groups, which encourage users to create meaningful connections with individuals who share interests, ideas, or causes.

While Facebook epitomizes the idea behind what’s intended and achievable through the use of positive technology, many important questions and concerns remain. Data privacy troubles and mishandlings of user data continue to plague Facebook. Moreover, numerous headlines citing users who fail to gain sufficient (or any) “Likes” for their shared content can develop low self-esteem is an important topic worthy of further exploration, especially when the “Like” button is a positive technology element intended to represent a universally positive emotion.

Thanks for reading!

I write about human-technology interaction, mediated technologies, cyberpsychology, positive media psychology, narrative psychology, social psychology, brand psychology, transmedia storytelling, neuro design, behavior design, and so much more.

And once in a very blue moon, I’ll also creatively write about completely random stuff that has absolutely nothing to do with my profession :)

Mayra Ruiz-McPherson, MA, MFA
left 🧠: Media Psychologist • Cyberpsychologist • Brand Psychologist
right 🧠: Neurodesigner • Visual Artist • Creative Writer

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media psychologist • neuroscience scholar • philosophy curious • tech ethicist • visual artist 🎨 designer • incurable bibliophile • #amwriting ✍️🗒️✏️